What is an aneurysm?
An aneurysm is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning greater than 50 percent of the normal diameter (width). An aneurysm may occur in any blood vessel, but is most often seen in an artery rather than a vein.
An aneurysm may be located in many areas of the body, such as blood vessels of the brain, the aorta (the largest artery in the body), the intestines, the kidney, the spleen, and the vessels in the legs. The most common location of an aneurysm is the aorta, which carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. An aneurysm can be characterized by its location, shape, and cause.
The shape of an aneurysm is described as being fusiform or saccular, which helps to identify a true aneurysm. The more common fusiform-shaped aneurysm bulges or balloons out on all sides of the blood vessel. A saccular-shaped aneurysm bulges or balloons out only on one side.
A pseudoaneurysm, or false aneurysm, is an enlargement of only the outer layer of the blood vessel wall. A false aneurysm may be the result of a prior surgery or trauma. Sometimes, a tear can occur on the inside layer of the vessel resulting in blood filling in between the layers of the blood vessel wall creating a pseudoaneurysm.
Because an aneurysm may continue to increase in size, along with progressive weakening of the artery wall, surgical intervention may be needed. Preventing rupture of an aneurysm is one of the goals of therapy. The larger an aneurysm becomes, the greater the risk of rupture (bursting). With rupture, life-threatening hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding), and possibly death, may result.
What causes an aneurysm to form?
An aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that result in the breaking down of the well-organized structural components (proteins) of the aortic wall that provide support and stabilize the wall. The exact cause is not fully known. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is thought to play an important role in aneurysmal disease. Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include, but are not limited to, the following:
- older age
- family history
- genetic factors
- hyperlipidemia (elevated fats in the blood)
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
Other specific causes of aneurysms are related to the location of the aneurysm. Examples of aneurysms in the body and their causes may include, but are not limited to, the following:
sudden severe headache, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbance, loss of consciousness
Common Iliac Aneurysm
lower abdominal, back, and/or groin pain
Femoral and Popliteal Artery Aneurysm
easily palpated (felt) pulsation of the artery located in the groin area (femoral artery) or on the back of the knee (popliteal artery)
The symptoms of an aneurysm may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for more information.
Treatment for aneurysms:
Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your signs and symptoms
- your tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preferenc